Saturday, 16 May 2015

Loving Lake Brunner

We had a very wet night at the Top 10 campground in Greymouth but the next day dawned fine and clear and we were keen to get on the road and head to our next destination, Lake Brunner, which is about 30kms inland from Greymouth.

On the way we stopped at the historic site of the Brunner Coal Mine which straddles the Grey River not too far out of town in an area known as ‘Coal Gorge’. All that remains of the Brunner Mine on the surface, are the remains of the old coke ovens and a large memorial of a miner with plaques listing the names of the men killed at Brunner, along with other mining disasters on the West Coast including the most recent, with the loss of 29 men at Pike River in November, 2010.

The chimney on the south bank (where the carpark is located) was actually part of the Tyneside Mine which was located on that side of the river.

In March 1896 an explosion deep inside the Brunner mine killed all 65 miners inside and remains New Zealand’s worst mining disaster. The moving stories of some of the miners, and their families left behind, are told on story boards in the mine information shelter across the suspension bridge.

There’s also a memorial plaque at Brunner for the men killed in the Strongman Mine. The centre photo is of a large memorial rock for the Strongman Mine disaster which happened in 1967, the rock was on the main coast highway near the Moutkiekie Rock Stacks. With so many mine disasters, along with Cave Creek, it would seem that the West Coast has had far too many tragedies with multiple lives lost; far too many in comparison with other NZ provinces.

Looking back across the Grey River, and tucked up unseen in the bush above the road, I spied an old belfry tower. The remains of the busy mining settlement that used to be situated along either side of this section of the river.

Our next stop was Moana, Lake Brunner’s holiday settlement, where we stopped for lunch at the Stationhouse Cafe which overlooks the historic Moana goods shed, railway station and footbridge. Everyday the trans-alpine railcar passes through the settlement around mid-day and stops for a brief few minutes for passengers to stretch their legs and take photos. I wanted to shoot it as it pulled in or out of the station but even though I saw the railcar everyday, I was either driving, too far away or out on the lake. I need to plan that shoot a little better next time.

To reach our camping site at Iveagh Bay we passed under the main east-west, Christchurch-Greymouth railway and even though we know we won’t hit, it always feels like we might just. So I get out to check and we’re, as we already knew, a ‘mile’ clear. Better to be safe than sorry though….and it gives me a chance to grab another photo!

Iveagh Bay is a quiet sheltered bay on the north side of the Lake Brunner about 5kms further east of Moana. The freedom camping area is tucked in at the end of a large reserve with a number of lovely holiday homes as a back-drop, most un-occupied and shut up for the winter.

We have the place to ourselves as we set up in what must be a prime site; backed up to a small stream and just a few steps from the lakes edge. It’s not that often that I feel at home so quickly but this was one of those places. I said to David, I could stay here for a few weeks and I’d be very happy. It’s a pity that we can only stay for 3 nights; Lake Brunner’s freedom camping regulations come under Greymouth Districts banner. I’m wondering if my ‘ancient man’ on his trike comes by at 5:30am.

David doesn’t waste any time and has the Takacat out and ready to go within an hour or so and then as the afternoon draws to a close he heads off to check out our bay.

For the next couple of days the weather is perfect, the lake is so calm, perfect for us to explore and David to fish. The entrance to Iveagh Bay is directly across the water.

Mt Te Kinga borders the east side of Iveagh Bay and does a great job at sheltering the bay. There are a number of ski lanes around the lake including one along the base of the mountain where the waters are smooth and calm.

What a perfect spot- lake edge, drowned forest, bird song and native bush….now all we need are the trout.

There were a number of drowned trees, tree stumps & unusual trunk sculptures, remnants of a kaihikatea trees,  along the lake edge which made great photo subjects.

Especially during the golden hour when the setting sun turned the wood and bush to a warm rustic golden colour. A number of passing photographers visited the lake during our stay, they arrived with their tripods and camera bags packed with many lens, only to find the lake covered in thick cloud, or the sun to high or it was overcast and drizzling.

None arrived during the golden hour or stayed for sunset, when the colours were perfect and the lake was a picture. They didn't have the luxury, like I did, of being able to see the many moods of the lake throughout the day.

I took this photo out the back window of David. I bet in a month of Sundays you’ll never guess what he is doing. I’ll help you. He is hunting for a rat trap. He is hunting along a stream overgrown with cutty grass for a rat trap that had disappeared from where he had set it. Cutty grass or not there is no way in hell you'd have found me searching in this environment, I'd be far too scared of what might jump out at me. But David was determined to find his trap.

I haven’t done a blog on our pest control programme yet, I’ve been waiting to be able to report our successes but unfortunately so far the successes have been few and far between with just a few unfortunate mice caught.

We have two special traps we're trialing; one for mice and one for rats. The animal walks inside the tube checking for the bait, triggering the trap which has been set using an expanded sheep tailing ring. The ring springs off around the head of the poor mouse instantly killing it.

It’s a pity the mice can’t read, they keep setting off the rat trap and it’s a pity weka can’t read either. One pesky weka had managed to pull the trap away from where it was pinned to the ground. It must have been the peanut butter bait. At first David was sure someone had stolen it. That was until I assured him no one in their right mind would steal a rat trap that was hidden from sight and especially when there were better trappings(no pun intended) of life on the road scattered around the van.

And sure enough, after 15 minutes or so and 101 nasty cuts he came up trumps; one rat trap retrieved still with peanut butter intact.

And here is the culprit, warming himself in early morning sun, readying himself for another day of poking his beak where it’s not wanted.

After a couple of days with the lake to ourselves, the long ANZAC weekend brought a number of families to the lake to stay. This little dog was having fun riding the bow of his Dad’s kayak until he slipped and just about fell in. He did very well to hang on for as long as it took Dad to give him a helping hand back up with the end of his paddle. 

More families arrived, hoping for a last holiday weekend in the sun, their fizz boats loaded with children, wetsuits & wake boards. Shrieks and squeals of laughter rung out across the still waters.

The Maori name for the lake is Kotuku Moana which means ‘Sea of herons’ so it was fitting that we did get to see one White Heron/Kotuku while we were there (I wonder what the Maori word for swan is- there would have been 3-4 hundred black swans on the lake). Iveagh Bay had it’s own little bay that was surrounded by kahikatea trees on one side and a drowned forest on the other, along with lots of rushes and a wetland.

There was also a rather large house boat moored in this small bay, although it looks a little neglected I see on the web that it sleeps 12, has 4 bedrooms, one bathroom, a spa pool on the deck and can be hired for $800-$1000 a night.

The rain set in once again on Sunday and didn’t let up for five days solid. At least we managed a couple of fine days at the beginning of our stay. After a torrential downpour all night and the ground around us becoming sodden and starting to flood we decided to pull out on Monday morning and shift to Jacksons to wait for the weather to clear before we crossed Arthurs Pass. The rain stopped long enough for us to hitch up and pull out, the cloud hung low over mountains, the lake like a mill pond, yet again.

Still to come from Lake Brunner- A tour of the lake, trout for dinner and a miniature bungalow.


  1. And as usual, a great read, and fantastic photos.

    1. Thanks Supergran, pleased you enjoyed the blog. One day we'll catch up with you.


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